Before we begin, please listen to our student leaders share God Sightings at The Episcopal Youth Event on this and next week’s episodes of the Faith to Go Podcast available right here: Apple, Google Play, or Spotify. Then visit @diosandiego on Instagram for accompanying photos and videos from the EYE adventure.
It was 4:30 am on the Fourth of July. Tamika, my Lyft driver, sped down the 94-West toward Lindberg Field, and I start to wonder when this adventure really began for me.
It was before the last delegation meeting at St Luke’s, last month’s chaperone meeting at Broken Yolk, and way before last year’s delegation announcement at Diocesan Convention…
Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) is a massive conference of teenagers from across the globe that gather every three years to celebrate each other, worship together, and grow as the cutting edge of the Episcopal community.
In July 2023, 14 students and chaperones from The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego landed at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., to begin their EYE adventure.
A week of energy, music, worship, befriending, learning, teaching, and sleep (never in that order twice). I was excited about what our youth delegation was stepping into. An intense experience with other youth that are primed for a future of action and formation as their generation’s passion shapes the next century.
I found myself standing with the Rt. Rev. Brian Prior, Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Alabama in a ballroom planning a thousand-person game of rock-paper-scissors. We’ve known each other for over 30 years and mused on the history of the church, youth ministry, and our future. “This generation IS the CHURCH!” is the message that Bishop Prior continues to drill home. The immediacy and passion with which they (the students) believe is necessary now more than ever.
After a morning of Noah’s Ark-level rainfall, Bishop Prior and I stood smiling at each other, giving high fives and energetic words of encouragement as Hawaiians, Guamanians, students from Munich, Taipei, and the Caribbean, Arctic, and everywhere in between careen into the ballroom. This level of enthusiasm is par for the course at EYE–the largest gathering of Episcopalians outside of General Convention.
We heard from a pantheon of leaders in the Church–a message of love from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to a message of belonging from Julia Ayala Harris, President of the House of Deputies.
But speaking wasn’t only what struck the youth; music upon music helped support a myriad of emotions.
Josh, a youth from the Diocese of Kansas, said, “I saw God yesterday during worship. We sang a song called ‘Ten Thousand Reasons,’ and I remember swaying back and forth with the people next to me, looking around and seeing everyone doing the same thing–head up to God. It was an amazing moment for me.”
After attending this week with not only our youth from San Diego, but youth from all over the world, the best advice that I can offer to my fellow church leaders is, “Get out of the way. This generation is here!”
Almost as soon as it started, it was time to depart. With hugs and promises to visit far-flung locations, students’ Instagrams flooded with hearts as friendships solidified in real-time.
Our youth delegation was bound for Old Town Alexandria, VA, to experience the power of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and countless monuments.
On our final boarding of the Metro to the airport for our flight home, some students left their Metro cards for other riders and some kept them as souvenirs.
Sometime between the ID check and the metal detectors in security, a parent called asking if I was aware of the potential delay of our connecting flight through Chicago. Not at all. She explained that the time between connections was shrinking due to the weather and asked if I’d like help looking for hotels in Chicago in case we needed a layover.
…Uhhhh… Hold Please.
This began the greatest use of patience and gratitude that my parents ever taught me. Right now.
Our chaperone team agreed that we’d inform the students and their parents with a plan rather than updates. Later we’d learn that these wonderful travelers were well aware of the delay because they’d been following the app since the metro station. Such good travelers.
I made my way to the airline agent at the gate with a flury of other disgruntled travelers.
“Tami (the gate agent), we see the growing delay for our layover and wonder if we may, please, fly on the next flight to San Diego?”
“Absolutely… That’ll be Tuesday,” she said.
It was Sunday evening. I had 14 students and chaperones with me. Tuesday might as well have been next year. “Jesus, I could use some help here.”
I asked, “Can we, please, fly into LA? Orange County, Ontario, even Phoenix, then drive home?”
“I’m so sorry, those flights are full”
“When are the next flights?”
“For 14 travelers… Tuesday.”
I called the hotel that we just left and explained our situation. They offered to book rooms for the night. –THANK YOU, BETTY!
Our chaperones found a nearby Target where we could purchase everything that we were watching slide up the ramp into the plane bound for Chicago. The plane that we weren’t on. I was still at the gate waiting for an update.
“Ok, Greg,” we were on first names by this point, “how about this?”
Tami and Sade, our gate agents, worked out three flights across 16 hours to carry our 14 students and chaperones through six separate airports to get us home.
“We’ll take it! Thank you, Tami!”
Three hours after checking in, we connected with parents, explained the plan to the students, moved through all kinds of emotions together, and made it back on The Metro headed for Target. Arriving within moments of closing, we loaded up on essentials for the next day’s travel and hopped back on the Metro.
Everyone was famished, we had not had a moment to eat dinner. Chaperones googled restaurants that were still open at 10:45. We discovered Bud and Edith’s 24-Hour Diner. They welcomed us with thumping dance music as all 14 of us entered. By 12:30 am, Chicken Fried Steak never tasted so good. We ate together and walked the remaining blocks to our hotel, where we were greeted with keys and a late checkout, compliments of the house. Betty’s great!
The next day began with two of us leaving at dawn for the first flight for home. The rest of us went back to Bud and Edith’s for lunch, then back to the airport. Take Two.
While riding north on the Metro, each of us shared that it took us a while to spin down enough for sleep then, right before we boarded, received a photo of our first group who’d left that morning beneath California palm trees. After the iconic approach into San Diego, with Coronado on the left and Balboa Park on the right, we were greeted by an enthusiastic Charlette Preslar, our Diocesan Director of Formation, holding a sign welcoming us home.
Charlette planned, coordinated, and supported us along the way; and now welcomed the weary travelers home. What a treat.
We prayed often, gave thanks often, and supported each other across a very long, very rewarding, very formative week together.
Thank you for your prayers and support. Trust God as the future unfolds before you. Be patient with our student leaders. Let them try. Let them fail. Let them shine. Hold on tightly, the Church has a wonderful future, so join me by embracing the Holy Spirit within them; then let them lead.
So when did all this start for me?
“…you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked
as Christ’s own forever. Amen.”
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